Reimagining Experiential Learning

Skill-Building Opportunities Outside the Classroom

Topics: Student Affairs, Student Experience, Career Services, Experiential Learning

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Executive Summary

Leveraging career skill-building opportunities within student affairs

Competition for employment among recent graduates is fiercer than ever and expectations for new hires are high. Students must be able to articulate the value of their college experience, as well as the skills and competencies they’ve gained, to differentiate themselves in the job search.

Institutions are now facing pressure not only to ensure their students are successful during college and graduate on time, but also that they are adequately prepared for what comes next. In today’s economy, that means getting a first job as well as preparing for a lifetime of career transitions.

Employers consistently report that the most important skills for employees to have are the “soft” ones such as written and verbal communication, teamwork, and problem solving.

Employers also report a “skills gap” and lack of workforce preparation among new graduates. In fact, only 11% of business leaders strongly agree that graduates have the necessary skills and competencies to succeed in the workplace, and 45% of senior executives in the U.S. believe that soft skills are where employees are most lacking.

There is a huge opportunity for student affairs to support students’ skill development through the breadth of experiential learning opportunities that exist across the division.

Students can and are developing high-demand skills through co-curricular involvement, including student organizations, Greek life, student leadership, volunteer opportunities, and campus employment, but many students don’t access these opportunities, and those that do often struggle to articulate the concrete or transferable value of their experiences to prospective employers.

Student leaders tend to engage independently with high-impact, skill-building activities; with additional support, we can help them translate and articulate their experiences as they transition out of college.

In many cases, student leaders already have the experiences and skills that will serve them in the job search and beyond. Consider offering additional guidance to help them recognize, reflect upon, and articulate the skills they have developed through their involvement with strategies ranging from tailored resume support to in-depth co-curricular pathways.

Campus employment holds tremendous potential as a personal and professional development experience. To maximize its value, incorporate formal learning outcomes, leverage supervisor support, and connect students with career preparation resources.

There are often a large number of student employees on campus with which student affairs has interaction. Their positions place them in a professional setting and often provide skill-building opportunities, making them low-hanging fruit for support in leveraging their employment as a developmental experience.

Reframing co-curricular involvement as a range of opportunities for skill development allows student affairs divisions to reach a broader population of students and help them make more intentional choices for their involvement.

Most students—whether they become involved on campus or not—don’t realize the skill-building potential of campus involvement, and thus fail to reap the full benefits of their experience. Student affairs units must build awareness among the broader student body about the value of on-campus involvement, provide tools for them to select opportunities that support their goals, and offer more directive support to harder-to engage students.

As experiential learning is increasingly becoming an institutional priority, schools are considering different ways to adopt campus-wide initiatives, varying from documentation tools to experiential learning requirements.

There is a growing movement at some schools toward campus-wide documentation tools like co-curricular transcripts and e-portfolios, while others are developing robust “out of the classroom” curriculums or implementing experiential learning requirements. Each approach has benefits and drawbacks, and its implementation will vary depending on the specific nature of your institution.

  • Toolkit and Resource Center 

    This toolkit provides step-by-step implementation guides to help you improve experiential learning opportunities for students at your institution in four key areas. Access now.

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